The Power Usage of Default Apps

Sometimes being a power user means using specialized apps that allow for greater customization than what default apps or services can provide. Power users need special tools so they can tweak and optimize their workflows to the n-th degree.

I think there can be another definition of power user.

I like to explore the idea of being a “power user” of default apps. I like the challenge of artificially restricting myself to only default apps on all my devices (at least in areas where it isn’t prohibitively detrimental to my productivity). Creating this restraint does two things — first, it forces me to really know how to use the default apps and second, it forces me to keep my workflows and systems simpler than I may otherwise be inclined. Both of these are positive outcomes.

The default apps are often surprisingly robust. There’s rarely something I can’t do that I need to do with a default app. At the same time, since they tend to be simpler than other options I could avail myself of I’m forced to be more mindful about what “job” I’m actually hiring a piece of software to do. For example, I recently switched back to the default Mail app across all my devices (away from the incredibly customizable Airmail) because I realized I was using almost none of the customization available in the more advanced app. I was hiring Airmail to do a job that the default Mail app could do just as well — and actually a little bit better (it tends to be stabler and loads faster than Airmail). What I sacrifice in theoretical flexibility I gain in practical usability.

Obviously, there are gaps in what default apps can do. I’m actually writing this right now in Day One, a non-default app for journaling. What Day One does for me is valuable enough to let it break through my non-default app embargo because while I could use something like Pages or TextEdit to keep my digital journal, it would be a vastly diminished experience. Part of what keeps me journaling regularly is how enjoyable it is to use this app and the features it has specifically related to journaling. Another non-default app that I absolutely must use copiously is Slack. There is no Apple-made Slack client. Slack is Slack. And Slack is where 98% of my work communication happens. Thus, Slack lives on all my devices.

Default apps I’ve recently re-embraced, though, include Notes, Podcasts Numbers, iBooks, Twitter, Apple Music, and Apple Maps. There may be “better” versions of each of these apps made by a third party developer but I’ve realized that in almost every case the default version is more than suitable for what I truly need it for. The fact that the Twitter app is worse than Tweetbot is actually making me use Twitter less — which is probably a good thing. Same with the Podcast app. Using Overcast makes it so easy to find other episodes of shows I like I often ended up spending more time listening to podcasts than I actually wanted. The Podcasts app doesn’t have cool features like Overcast… but it does pull down the handful of podcasts I subscribe to and let me listen to them. Which is really all I need.

Challenge yourself to give the default apps on your devices a try for a week or two and you may surprise yourself in realizing what is and isn’t necessary for you to be productive and happy.

This article is part of an experiment where I try to write and publish an idea in 30 minutes or less (nearly) every day, typos and logical sloppiness be damned. Want to keep the discussion going? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.

Your Priorities Are Only as Good as What You De-Prioritize

A few days ago I shared a personal practice that has been really valuable — the even-over statement. If you missed that article, the basic idea is that nothing is truly a priority unless you’re willing to sacrifice something else in the name of it. Using an even-over statement forces you to articulate that tradeoff in a way that can really help put a fine point on what you’re trying to do.

My three even-over statements for the first part of 2017 are:

  1. Sincerity e/o Irony

  2. Good Weeks e/o Good Days

  3. Consistent e/o Stochastic

I took a first stab at articulating what these actually mean to me in the original article, but upon further re-reading I realized I didn’t go into much detail about the “even over” part of each statement. It’s important to remember that an even-over statement is only as powerful as the good thing that’s being de-prioritized in each statement. To that end, I wanted to describe the deliberate tradeoff I’m making by adhering to these statements.

Sincerity even over Irony

As I mentioned before, the impetus of this even over statement comes from this excellent video from Will Schoder. I think part of the reason that it resonates so much with me is because it helped me realize how much of my own conduct and sense of humor leans on the ironic. It’s easy for me to be self-deprecating or cynical (which I consider cousins of irony) when I’m trying to be funny. It’s a.) too easy b.) a way to avoid being vulnerable and c.) frankly, not that funny.

Defaulting to sincerity does not come easily to me and yet I really value the people in my life who seem to be able to do a good job of it. I want to be more like them. I suspect it will make me a more pleasant person to be around, make me more effective in my work, and probably just improve my quality of life.

Good Weeks even over Good Days

I’m a huge believer in being mindful about how I spend my time and attention. I try not to let distractions interfere when I’m doing meaningful work — I mean, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport three times last year. Doing the right stuff, whether that’s taking care of myself physically or making sure I’m moving forward important work is central to my identity and sense of well-being. Unfortunately, this has often manifested in being way too hard on myself on a daily basis. It’s pretty unreasonable to expect every day to be amazing.

Even though it feels wrong I’m going to experiment with broadening my self-reflective (self-critical) horizon out to a weekly basis. Tied to this experiment is the realization that I almost always feel like I never get enough done on a daily basis but often surprise myself with how much I’m able to accomplish in an entire week. With that in mind, this even over statement is designed to bring me into alignment with that realization.

Consistent even over Stochastic

When I think of being stochastic I think of two things that are pretty positive: spontaneity and high intensity intervals. Being spontaneous is fun. People like spontaneous people (for the most part). Working in high intensity intervals aligns with much of my philosophy about how people are able to focus and develop a deep work practice. But for the time being I need to set these positive elements of a more stochastic working or self-care style aside and focus on doing the small, boring, yet absolutely vital things more consistently.

Even over statements don’t work if the thing you’re giving up isn’t difficult or intrinsically “good” in some way. In some respects, I think the power of this exercise and practice doesn’t come from the front half of these statements (the thing you want more of) but from selecting the right attribute to disengage with.

Only then do these “priorities” actually begin to be actual Priorities.

This article is part of a personal experiment where I write and publish something in 30 minutes or less (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question or comment? Leave a comment below or talk to me on Twitter.

Is It Possible to “Be Hungry” Without Working Insane Hours?

What does it mean to be hungry in the context of your work — if you take working insane hours off the table as an option?

This idea came up during our recent Ready Week (a trimesterly week where we don’t do any client work and instead focus internally while capping it off with an all-hands retreat). We didn’t really dive into it in much detail so I wanted to take a stab at articulating something.

This is particularly important to us because we are a self-managing organization. Each member at The Ready holds a portfolio of roles. Each role holder is expected to figure out the best ways to “energize” their roles and the limitations on what you can and cannot do are fairly non-existent. There aren’t any roles in our organization whose purpose is to manage any of the other roles. The end result is an incredible amount of freedom and autonomy to do what I think is best. At the same time, it truly is up to me to figure out how to raise the bar on each of my roles.

That’s where the idea of hunger comes in. A truly self-managed organization only thrives when everybody is pushing up against the limits of what they think they can do. Without that deliberate expansion and exploration of what each role could or should do the organization remains static. It’s only when the edges are explored and challenged that the organization continues to grow and evolve.

The easiest way to think about being hungry at work is simply putting in more hours than anyone else. This is far too simple and unsustainable to be the actual answer. While we all sometimes put in more than the standard 40 hour week, we try to make that the exception rather than the rule. In many cases, working extreme hours is what you do when you don’t actually know how to have an impact or are more interested in “hunger theatre” than actual hunger.

For me, I’ve been exploring the ideas of prioritization and focus as my way of operationalizing hunger.

The two books I come back to again and again as I think about how to up the hunger factor in the way I work is Deep Work by Cal Newport and Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

On the Deep Work side of things, being hungry means tackling everything I do at work (and elsewhere) with single-minded focus and determination. It’s about being able to concentrate on something beyond the first twinges of discomfort in order to get beyond the surface level observations and output that are relatively easy to gain and thus less valuable.

Having a deep work practice, and having that practice be my standard operating procedure for when I’m “at work” strikes me as being hungry. Deep work isn’t easy. It doesn’t necessarily feel good. But a company full of people dedicated to the practice of deep work is a company that’s inevitably creating something new and valuable.

Prioritization, on the other hand, is about knowing what to go deep on. It runs the gamut from developing and using even-over statements, to ruthlessly unsubscribing from unproductive email, saying “no” far more frequently than I’d prefer otherwise, streamlining low-impact but necessary activity, etc.

My favorite resource related to prioritization is Essentialism. Essentially (heh), being hungry is about eliminating the vast majority of the low impact activities, responsibilities, and requests on my time. It’s about forcing myself to get clear about where and how I have the largest impact and ignoring everything that’s not that. In my specific situation, that may mean skipping a “let’s get coffee and chat” request in order to work deep on a new theoretical contribution to our work or setting aside time to turn off all my devices, go somewhere quiet, and just think for a bit.

The nice thing about operationalizing hunger as focus and prioritization is that neither of these are contingent upon time. They aren’t antithetical to work life balance (actually, they are directly in support of it).

If your next performance review came down to hunger what would you do in the next 90 days to make that the cornerstone of how you work?

This article is part of a new experiment where I write and publish something in about 30 minutes (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter to chat.

A Nifty Tool for Making “Priority” Mean Something Again

One of my favorite thought technologies is the “even over statement.” An even over statement is a declaration of priority. It’s you saying you’re going to emphasize GOOD THING even over OTHER GOOD THING. It puts a delightful point on something we all know but rarely enact— that priorities require sacrifice. If there’s one word in the English language that has been bastardized beyond recognition it’s “priority.”

Maybe a long, long time ago attaching the word “priority” to an intention or a goal was something laudable. Now? It’s just the price of entry for joining the list of 17 other “priorities.”

When we work with teams at The Ready we often run them through a Strategy Meeting where we force them to create even over statements for their priorities. There’s always much gnashing of teeth and furrowing of brows but the end result always feels good. You leave the room knowing what to focus on and even more important, what’s okay to let slide in the pursuit of the actual priorities.

ANYWAY, preamble over.

I like to do strategy statements for myself. Here’s what I came up with. I’m going to run with these for at least a couple months and will revisit them later to see if they’re still resonating with me. Other than that, I’m going to bake some time into my weekly review each Sunday to reflect on them a bit.

These statements are meant to help guide me personally over the next few months and they are born of my self-observations and self-reflection. They are designed to address some areas of concern that have come to my attention and to be general enough to impact many aspects of my life but specific enough that they actually mean something.

Sincerity even over Irony

I’m tempted to just share this YouTube link and tell you that it encapsulates everything I’m trying to do with this statement better than I could ever write about it. In a nutshell, I think irony (and it’s close cousin, cynicism) have weaseled their way into my daily interactions and thought patterns to an unhealthy extent. Hip irony, sarcasm, and copious self-effacement have become crutches that prevent me from actually having to be sincere. From actually caring deeply about things. And while that’s not entirely accurate (I care deeply about lots of things) I don’t know that I’ve let that care and sincerity out of the closely held place I tend to keep them.

Good Weeks even over Good Days

I’m really hard on myself. Really, really, hard. My horizon for self-criticism has gotten far too short, though. I know that it’s okay to have off days but my modus operandi is to get far too critical with myself at the first sign of mediocrity. It comes from a good place (wanting to be a better person than I am today, wanting to make the world a better place, wanting to make the people around me happier/better/etc.) but the sick twist is that my self-criticism often gets in the way of me actually being able to do any of that.

So, instead, I’m going to broaden my horizon of criticism and reflection beyond the standard 24 hours I’ve been operating under. Now, I’m going to try to spend less time stressing about whether or not I had a good day and instead focus on figuring out how to have good weeks. I can still have a good week even if I sprinkle in the occasional bad day.

Consistent even over Stochastic

I have a small handful of simple activities that I know make me feel SO GOOD when I do them consistently. They are incredibly boring. Things like going to bed on time. Waking up on time. Meditating every day. Not eating out all the goddamn time. Working out consistently. Writing. Really groundbreaking stuff.

While these activities are certainly simple it hasn’t necessarily been easy to do them consistently. I go through short bursts where I nail them everyday. But then I’ll go through a burst where I do a few of them while letting the others fall to the wayside. Or I’ll do none of them for weeks. And then all of them for a week.

Considering how simple these things are and how I know how they have a huge impact on how I feel about myself (and thus how effective I am at work and how pleasant I am to be around and my general outlook on the world) there’s really no excuse for being so haphazard about them anymore. So, consistent even over stochastic I must be. I’m going to wrap these boring routines around me and wear them like a fucking blanket. It’s going to be so boring. And awesome.

Three statements. Three very clear strategies to help me navigate through an uncertain world. Here’s to a 2017 of sincerity, good weeks, and mind numbing consistency.

This is the first article in a new experiment where I write and publish something in about 30 minutes (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter to chat.